ICSE English poem — A Psalm of Life

A Psalm of Life

by H. W. Longfellow

Introduction .. This is a poem that radiates hope, optimism, inspiration and a call to action. In the same vein, it seeks to dispel the sense of resignation, despair, indolence, and pessimism.

First stanzaTell me not ……………… not where they seem.
Meaning .. It is a call to shake off desultory thoughts that push some human beings to despair and inaction. The author calls upon those under the spell of such morbid perception of life to see the brighter side of life and not let their souls rot in indolence. In a lugubrious tone, the author urges these disaffected people never to see life as a barren landscape where not a blade of grass grows. Human soul’s power of creativity, and its ability to drive a person to loftier heights of existence is lost on these people. They see nothing substantive in things around them.
2nd stanza Life is real! ……………………..spoken of the soul.
Meaning … The author implores the purposeless, ‘defeated’ people to rediscover life, and not treat it as fecund just because it ends in grave. Human soul defies destruction. It has limitless abilities. Ignoring the creative potential of soul will be foolish and futile. So, the author argues, defeatist thinking should cede ground to vibrant and exuberant living.
Stanza 3 .. Not enjoyment, not for sorrow ………………. Find us farther than today
Meaning ….. Life’s journey on earth must not be gauged by the misery and mirth one endures. The travails and triumphs can not dictate the course of life. Instead, the endeavour must be to reach higher and higher levels of achievement in one’s field of activity. The progress might be incremental, but it must be relentless. Pursuit of perfection should be the motto of life despite the sacrifices it demands from an individual.

Stanza 4 Art is long and Time is fleeting ……………. Marches to the grave
Meaning … The journey from cradle to grave is unstoppable. The scope to accomplish something bigger, better and nobler is enormous. However, time marches on. There is no scope for a pause for the perfectionist. With each moment passing, one inexorably inches towards one’s grave. The heart has to stop beating to mark a mortal’s departure from this world. So, the author implores his fellow human beings to strive unceasingly to loftier heights, and not be distracted by the joys and sorrows that must accompany a person all the way during his existence on earth.


In the world’s broad field of battle,

   In the bivouac of Life,

Be not like dumb, driven cattle!

   Be a hero in the strife!

Life presents myriad challenges, daunting tasks, and formidable hurdles. Confronting them requires Herculean willpower and a valiant never-do-die spirit. One has to summon all these traits to live through one’s life triumphantly, with dignity, and emerge with honnour. Giving up easily is escapism that brings humiliation, misery and ridicule. The author calls upon his readers not to give up, and accept defeat meekly. Capitulation to challenges is akin to the fear of fight seen in cattle.


Trust no Future, howe’er pleasant!

   Let the dead Past bury its dead!

Act,–act in the living Present!

   Heart within, and God o’erhead!

Never put your trust on soothsayers, astrologers, and people making prophesies. To curry favour, they  might mislead you with rosy forecasts about your future that may or may not materialize. On the other hand, brooding over past failures, defeats, and indignities heaped by enemies yield no benefit other than weakening your resolve to get back to your feet and confront your tormentors, restore your livelihood, and re-build your life. Live in the present. Let the sad past overshadow your vision, nor the rosy forecast of astrologers and advisors numb you to inactivity. Take stock of your present, plan your strategy, garner your resources and begin to resurrect your life. That is the wise way.


Lives of great men all remind us

   We can make our lives sublime,

And, departing, leave behind us

   Footprints on the sands of time;

When we read and reflect on the biographies of all great men and women, it becomes apparent that nearly all of them struggled their way to the zenith of their careers. Their lives were riddled with setbacks and their minds could never rest until they accomplished their goals. Some of them perished while in the midst of their lives’ battles. But, through their demise, they rose to conquer the heats of millions – like true heroes.


Footprints, that perhaps another,

   Sailing o’er life’s solemn main,

A forlorn and shipwrecked brother,

Seeing, shall take heart again.

The single-minded pursuit of a passion or a dream of these immortal men and women could or could not have brought them success in their life time, but their energy, dedication and indomitable spirit definitely inspires all those who dare to brave the pitfalls and hurdles in the quest of their goals. Thus, a hero’s sacrifice prods others to strive to achieve lofty goals in life.


Let us, then, be up and doing,

   With a heart for any fate;

Still achieving, still pursuing

   Learn to labor and to wait.

At the end, the author calls upon his readers to rise, take on the challenges, and confront the demands of life with great zest, verve and valour. One must lumber on defying the odds of life. Failings are inevitable, but through perseverance and rectitude, one must learn to wage a battle against frustration and fatal weakness of mind.




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11 Responses

  1. binapani says:

    Thanks for your awesome icse prose and poem analysis. It really helped me a lot. I want the analysis of other stories like Hunger by nasira sharma, kabuliwala by rabindranath tagore, journey by night by norah Burke.

  2. aditya says:

    a psalm of life is written as “a palsam of life.”plz correct it

  3. Anubhuti says:

    I want further help in psalm of life

  4. Srijan pratihar says:

    sir can you please answer these two questions from “the psalm of life”
    1)How does the poet want his readers to lead there lives?[4]
    2)what does the poet say about life?[4]

  5. Srijan pratihar says:

    OK sir not a problem

  6. Swati says:

    Sir,can you give the analysis of poem professor?

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